LEXINGTON, Ky. After injuring his wrist, Matt Austin didn't (or couldn't stand to) take much time off. He drew out of the Reno edition of the Dodge Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour presented by B & W Trailer Hitches as well as the Reno Rodeo, but that was about it. He's entered in the Lexington, Ky., Xtreme Bulls and, as usual, must be counted among the favorites.
Doctors diagnosed his injury as torn and bruised tissue and advised him to take a month off. Instead, he's taken two weeks.
"It was my wrist and my hand, but we'll see how it feels," he said. "They told me to take some time off, so I did."
Prior to Lexington, he'll crack out for the first time at the Greeley (Colo.) Independence Stampede.
The Lexington event will be a true test of how good he feels. In a two go-round format, the cowboys will have their chance at two bulls with the top 12 heading to the finals, so Austin could ride up to three bulls over the weekend. He's also entered in eight other rodeos over Cowboy Christmas the lucrative Fourth of July rodeo run.
There's no question there will be doubts as to his ability to compete, but let's not forget that Austin won a world title and set all kinds of earnings record with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that he's still got. In short, he knows his body and his pain limitations and if he feels like he's ready to ride, he'll be ready.
The other former world champion who is a surprise entry into the field is 2001-02 champ Blue Stone (Ogden, Utah). Stone took the PRCA by storm in his first full year of competition, 2001, and won his first world title in his first Wrangler NFR qualification. He came right back in 2002 to repeat.
In 2003, however, he severely injured his shoulder in March at the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo in Austin. He underwent surgery and mounted a valiant comeback, but was never the same bull rider. Due primarily to that injury, he effectively retired from bull riding. But since he's entered, we can only assume he's feeling healthy and missing the game.
Others to watch include 2000 World Champion Cody Hancock. He's been riding strong and at the Reno Xtreme Bulls had an 89 in the short-go before getting bucked off in the final round.
Staying with the world champions theme, Dustin Elliott is another bull rider riding too good not to be a factor in Lexington. He hasn't had any success on the Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour, but he's been exceptional at the rodeos. It's only a matter of time before the 2004 world champion catches a break in Xtreme Bulls.
One of this year's tour champs, Jason McClain (who won the Tulsa stop) severely broke his right leg below the knee while dismounting during the final round of the Reno Rodeo. The bull's horn collided with McClain's leg. The exact prognosis is still unknown.
Once again, the draw is huge in bull riding, but where contestants have a chance at two bulls before the finals, the cream will rise to the top.
Look for the streaking J.W. Harris, who wowed the crowd in Reno with a record-setting 96 to make the short round, as well as Jarrod Ford, Sonny Murphy and Zeb Lanham.
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.